21 December 2008

Te Awa’s Outrageous and Opulent Pinotage

Outrageous and opulent -- a taste feast. That is the Pinotage promise on Te Awa's restaurant wine list and who could resist it? The winery adds that ‘this is a statement Pinotage in the world of conformity and mediocrity’.

Never one for conformity, we had a glass of 2005 Pinotage poured while we pondered what meal to order. There was some confusion as we discussed our choices. When the waitress took the first food order it sounded interesting but I couldn’t find it listed on my menu and after swapping menus the reason became clear. We had been given similar but different choices.

Similar problems with the wine. The first glass was showed a wine whose fruit was masked by tannins and had a green stalkiness. I couldn’t detect any obvious fault and wondered if the bottle had been opened too long but I was assured it had been opened that very day. I sloped off to the tasting counter to taste another glass but that was the same. The wine was not undrinkable, just not very forthcoming.

Another glass was poured with the meal, this time from a new bottle and it was like a different wine. Fruit forward with restrained tannins. A softly sweet bouquet and a rather classy firm wine. It was a like a car revving its engines while the brakes were on. You could just taste a hint of galumphing Pinotage flavours wanting to burst forth but they were kept firmly in check.

As to the reason for the difference in the wines; the winery suggested either the heat of the day (it was very hot) affected the wine or it was affected by TCA. This had occurred to me, because at low levels TCA suppresses fruit flavours, which is why I went to the tasting counter to taste another sample. I didn’t then know that when a wine is ordered by the glass at TeAwa wait staff take an opened bottle from the tasting counter to pour at the table then return it. So when I went to try another glass I was in fact tasting from the very same bottle. We’re pretty sensitive to TCA and didn’t detect it in the wine.

Te Awa Estate is in Hawkes Bay (you’ve probably guessed by now that I am in New Zealand) and its vineyards are planted on the famous Gimblett Gravels. The gravels formed the bed of the wide Ngaruroro river that flowed over here until 1867 when an earthquake lifted the land and the river diverted. The ground consists of metres of flat oval grey gravel stones with pockets of sand, soil and silt all deposited by the river over aeons.

TeAwa, whose name is derived from Te Awa o te atua which means 'River of God' in Maori, has seven 300 metre long rows of Pinotage, about 2,100 vines planted in 1994 in an area unsuitable for Pinot Noir. Jenny Dobson made the 2005 and all TeAwa’s previous vintages and she has a real soft spot for Pinotage. Unfortunately Jenny’s time at TeAwa came to an abrupt end earlier this year (she is now at nearby Unison Vineyard) and it will be interesting to see what her successor will make of this non-conformist variety.

“Pinotage is our cult wine which has devoted followers,” they told me at the winery. But they have no plans to plant any more. They’re keeping it a cult.

This is one of the Pinotage rows at Te Awa. You can see the Gimblett Gravel stones under the wines and see that they’ve cleared the canopy to expose the young green grapes to sunlight and air. If you’re visiting TeAwa and want to see these Pinotage vine the rows are about halfway along on the left of the driveway, just after a small gap. They are rows numbered 456 to 662.

18 December 2008

Kari Kari Estate _New Zealand's Most Northerly Pinotage

KariKari Estate is New Zealand’s most northerly. Located at the tip of the Kari Kari Peninsula the winery offers views over its vineyards to the sweep of the Pacific Ocean below breaking on a long white sand beach. Planting started with ten acres in 1998 when the land was purchased by US financier Paul Kelley. The property also contains a beef farm, golf course and villa accommodation at Carrington Resort. A further ten acres of vines has since been planted including Pinotage.

Winemaker Ben Dugdale said “at the end of this peninsula we are effectively island 21 kilometres from shore and have own weather usually missing the storms we can see back there on the mainland. Winds come straight across the sea and we’ve now planted windbreaks. Salt spray can be a problem – its our equivalent of frost damage and if salt gets on the tips or young flowers it burns them just like frost does.

Ben had lined up all of KariKari’s Pinotages.


This was the first Pinotage vintage at KariKari and just three barrels were made. It is soft and warm with gentle cherry flavours and some acid and tannins on the finish. No rough edges, pleasant mature light red wine, not noticeably Pinotage.


This was made by Ben’s predecessor Kim Crawford and was the first vintage from the young Pinotage vines. Mid red colour, dry, light bodied with some dry tannins on the finish from American oakand reminded me of a ‘luncheon claret’. It’s a pretty wine.


Ben’s first vintage at KariKari has a denser colour than the previous and a more complex nose. There’s dark cherry flavours and a dry finish. It’s a delightful wine. Ben said he used French oak for maturation but he during fermentation he bled off a little of the juice which he put in a heavy toasted American oak barrel to finish its fermentation before blending back with the rest. “It gives quite a blast, I wanted to see what happened,” he said. “But I felt it detracted a bit from where I wanted the fruit to go, so I didn’t repeat the experiment.” The previous two had screwcaps but Ben converted to Diam technical corks from this vintage. “I prefer them for aging reds,” he said


Dark garnet, Pinotage nose, good balance with restrained berry fruits, a touch of mocha and tang of soft grained tannins on finish. “I didn’t use any fining agents on this, but I removed some acids. It is still quite tight and needs some years,” says Ben.


This was a tank sample, it is due to be bottled in January ‘09. Good colour interesting nose offers coffee and coconut. There is some serious sweet fruits, it is plumy and spicy with black pepper and tannins kicking in on the black palate. “The key difference with this,” said Ben, “is that we got two and a half times as much fruit in 2007 than before. I was going to remove fruit but the vines were fine, not stressed or unbalanced.” Ben used a little egg white fining to remove some tannins.


This was a barrel sample. It had a most unusual and attractive nose like a scented honey. “Manuka honey,” said Ben and he went to the winery restaurant and returned with a pot of Manuka honey. Manuka is a local bush with white and pale mauve flowers and honey produced from them is prized and is a potent antiseptic. Kari Kari’s Pinotage vineyard is bordered on two sides with Manuka hedges which were in flower when we went to it.

There’s lots of sweet red berry fruits on the palate, some lavender and tannins. This wine has more ‘oomph’ and it is more intense than earlier vintages and it’s pretty amazing. “I think this would be perfect with smoked snapper with a dribble of Manuka honey,” Ben said.

Ben let this vintage ferment naturally using wild yeasts. “With wild yeasts we’re getting closer to a sense of place and I think it’s worth cracking on with it,” Ben told me. He will take it out of barrel in February ’09.

Ben is pleased with Pinotage, “to my mind it has a good future …. but it needs a PR campaign.” He has not tasted many South African Pinotages and would like to put up his Pinotage against the South African’s in the Top 10 competition where he thinks it has a good chance.

14 December 2008

Ascension Rings its Pinotage Bell

Ascension Winery, in New Zealand’s Matakana wine region, was just closing for the day as Sue Courtney and I drove up at 5pm but they stayed open for us to taste their 2007 ‘Bell Ringer’ Pinotage.

This is quite a different style from the 2006 ‘Parable’ which I tasted last year. It is more beaujolais like, light bodied with soft raspberry fruit flavours and 12.5% abv. This style is popular locally and the wine sells well.

Sue Courtney’s tasting note says:
Ascension 'The Bell Ringer' Pinotage 2007
Beautiful light crimson-purple red. Savoury, smoked meat and bacon notes on the nose with rustic wild cherries.Lovely clean savoury flavours, bright and tasty with a silky mouthfeel, juicy cherry and blueberry fruit and a hint of chocolate. The smoky oak from the nose comes through and the finish is distinctively Pinotage gamey. Seems to have taken a different direction from recent previous vintages. It has a lighter touch.

Ascension’s owner Darryl Soljan (pictured) says that Pinotage does every well at Ascension. He has two acres that he planted here in 1996 but Darryl and the Soljan's involvement with Pinotage goes back much earlier with other vineyards and wineries owned by the family.

Many thanks to Sue Courtney, columnist with the Rodney Times and publisher of www.wineoftheweek.com/

08 December 2008

Pinotage Pronunciation - how do you say Pinotage?

I have been using Feedjit for the past few months on this blog. If you scroll far enough down you’ll see the Feedjit Live Traffic Feed panel on the right side.

It shows the country and the link that visitors come from and any search term they used to find The Pinotage Club.

One of the most common searches is for Pinotage Pronunciation and this post from September 2005 is found.

I thought that I should post every now and again specifically to answer the questions people are interested in, so let’s start with Pinotage Pronunciation.

The correct way to say Pinotage is with a short ‘i’ sound, exactly the way you say pin when talking about drawing pins or pins-and-needles. The tage part is pronounced to rhyme with ‘large’, so put them together you get

Pin no targe

What about all the websites that tell you that the Pin of Pinotage is pronounced Peen? Wrong, each and every one of them! They’ve obviously never heard the word spoken in its homeland of South Africa and they are thinking of the way the French say Pinot Noir. Now, it is true Pinot Noir is one of the parents of Pinotage, but Pinotage is not a French variety. It is a South African variety and the South African growers call it ‘Pinnotarge’ -- never ever peeno.

And for final proof, as if any should be needed: Graham Beck Winery’s lifestyle Pinotage is simply labelled as ‘Pinno’.

06 December 2008

Gary returns to Pinotage

April last year v-blogger Gary Vaynerchuck took a good look at Kanonkop Pinotage 2004 which he raved about (see here)

This December he's returned to Pinotage. This time he's looking at three less expensive brands, Nederberg and two names new to me, False Bay and Lion Hunt. The episode is here


02 December 2008

The People Vote for the People's Pinotage

Diemersfontein’s coffee and chocolate Pinotage scored a resounding hat trick of victories at major wine shows in Durban, Cape Town and Johannesburg during 2008.

The public was asked to name the best red wine on show at WineX Cape Town, WineX Johannesburg and at the Mercury Wine Week in Durban, and in each case the majority chose Diemersfontein Pinotage. The wine was also the biggest seller by volume at WineX Johannesburg, where fans backed their votes with their wallets.

WineX director Michael Fridjhon said the Best Wine on Show has become “a meaningful barometer of the style and variety most sought after by the country’s premium wine consumer”.

“That a discerning set of wine consumers in our three biggest cities have rated our Pinotage ‘the best Red Wine’ is the most wonderful accolade that all of us in the team at Diemersfontein could wish for,” says David Sonnenberg, the third generation owner and founder of Diemersfontein wines.

“It is my impression that Winex and Mercury patrons – while certainly there to have a good time - are also pre-occupied with tasting a large range of wines in order to discover and benchmark their favourite varietals and blends from among the SA wine industry’s diverse and excellent Estates. So we are especially appreciative of the public’s endorsement in these instances.”

The popular support for the Diemersfontein Pinotage has surged since it was first produced in 2001 and it has been dubbed “The People’s Pinotage” by respected wine writer Neil Pendock after he conducted a consumer survey.

Diemersfontein's Pinotageis the only South African wine to have its own birthday party. Every year Diemersfontein successfully hosts Pinotage on Tap events – considered to be the winelands’ favourite party - in the Cape and Gauteng to celebrate the release of a new vintage in the company of the wine’s ever-growing legion of fans.

“So many customers write to us very generously and lyrically about the wine – from very experienced and regular wine drinkers to those just starting out on the wine journey. It appears to have bridged many people into a love of red wine and Pinotage in particular. We are delighted that our wines seem to give so many South Africans a lot of pleasure,” says Sonnenberg. And not just South African's -- the wine has a cult following in the UK where it is stocked by Waitrose and woe betide them when they run out.

To celebrate the trio of victories, Diemersfontein is planning a series of fun food and wine evenings across the country. The events will give fans the opportunity to enjoy the wine with exceptional food produced by some of South Africa’s leading chefs

01 December 2008

November's Newsletter

November's newsletter has been emailed out. You can download it by clicking on the front cover image, left.

To be placed on the newsletter mailing list send an email to peter (at) pinotage (dot) org

Please note the new header above. This was designed by Sharief Kamish in South Africa to whom I am very grateful. Sharief also designed the header for The Cru blog